Vice President Mike Pence, who is spearheading the White House response to the new coronavirus, said Thursday morning that despite the outbreak, and his own office's recommendations, he plans to continue shaking hands.
"I'm still shaking hands here at the White House," Pence told CNN. "I'm also washing my hands very regularly through the day."
Pence stressed that washing your hands is "one of the common-sense practices that Americans can engage in."
"Wash your hands regularly. Clean those often-used surfaces," Pence said. "We're all in this together."
But not handshaking is also a common-sense practice that Pence's office has recommended.
A four-page slide from the Office of the Vice President titled, "Keeping Workplaces, Homes, Schools, or Commercial Establishments Safe" puts "stop handshaking" as its top recommendation for practicing good hygiene. The advisory is featured on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website page on "Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities."
Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee greeted Pence with an elbow bump rather than a handshake after the vice president landed in Tacoma. Pence proceeded to use the elbow bump to greet everyone waiting to greet him on the tarmac.
But during a news conference on Tuesday, Pence said he and President Donald Trump were still shaking hands to greet people. A reporter noted the advisory telling people not to shake hands was posted on the wall of the White House briefing room and asked if "the president should set that example."
"As the president has said, in our line of work you shake hands when someone wants to shake your hand," Pence said. "I expect the president will continue to do that. I'll continue to do it."
Pence said the advisory was "a broad recommendation for Americans."
"But a really good recommendation is to wash your hands often," he added.
At a news conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminded people of the importance of handwashing before explaining that she has been avoiding handshakes.
Pelosi told reporters that at a dinner the previous night she met with Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland. She said they exchanged elbow bumps instead of handshakes.
"I did not impose up him with a handshake, nor did he on me," Pelosi said.
But even elbow bumps may too close for comfort in the time of coronavirus, the speaker said.
Pelosi has previously joked that in light of the outbreak, instead of "embracing" whoever becomes the Democratic presidential nominee she would "enthusiastically elbow bump" the person. But she said someone told her even elbow bumping should be avoided because it forces you to get close to the person.
"So, forget any physical contact greetings," Pelosi said. "Bow in an Eastern style."
A 2014 study found that 90% fewer germs are transferred with fist bumps than handshakes. But doctors agree that washing your hands remains the most important thing you can do.
"No matter how you greet someone, washing your hands often will do more to keep you from spreading germs than giving someone a first bump," wrote Howard LeWine, the chief medical editor for Harvard Health Publishing, in an article on the 2014 study.
According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there are currently more than 1,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and more than three dozen people have been killed by the disease.